Anyone who frequents our comments will know readers don’t always agree with the expert reviews published on CarAdvice. Our team of road testers and journalists are lucky to drive lots of cars, but that also means we approach things from a certain angle.
With that in mind, we’ve started a project with our readers. Rather than hogging the keys, we’re slinging them to frequent site visitors, commenters and members of owner groups. The idea is to get a range of perspectives on a certain car, and pull them together in one place.
Up for assessment is a blue Isuzu D-Max in range-topping LS-T guise. Priced from $50,990 before on-road costs, the car is powered by the same 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine as the wider range, making 130kW and 430Nm. It’s mated to a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, along with a manually-switchable four-wheel drive system.
Without further ado, here’s what Robert Rice, James Dyer and Mark Rogers thought of the big, blue Isuzu.
What is your daily driver?
Mark: My daily varies – it can be a Ford Transit van, Volkswagen Amarok, Nissan Navara or Subaru WRX STI.
Robert: I drive a 2017 Ford Ranger XL Double Cab Hi Rider 2.2 Auto, and a 2014 Kia ProCeed GT Manual.
James: A 2018 Nissan Navara ST-X (Work), 2017 Holden SSV Redline Ute, 2000 Nissan Patrol (with an L98 V8 engine)
Why did you want to drive the car?
Mark: I was interested to see what a top-of-the-range D-Max was like. I’ve driven the Amarok, Navara, Ranger and HiLux, so I have a bit to compare with.
Robert: I thought it would be great vehicle being part developed with GM. I once had a Holden Colorado/Rodeo Ute with had the same 3.0-litre engine.
James: I really wanted to drive the Isuzu to directly compare it against the Navara, both are similarly classed vehicles but executed very differently. The Navara with coil suspension small capacity diesel and the D-Max using traditional leaf springs are targeting different users of the same type of vehicle.
What was the first thing you noticed about the car?
Mark: The blue colour stood out. It’s a great colour.
Robert: The blue colour was really nice, while the styling was a bit bland but functional. Lots of chrome too, so it’s a bit blingy.
James: As soon as I saw the car there was no mistaking it for anything other than an Isuzu. The simple body lines coupled with the Isuzu family nose give it that strong resemblance of previous models.
The lockable tonneau gives the load space better security and weatherproofing, included roof rails give an easy place to carry longer items and the alloy bull bar gives the headlights some much needed protection, even if I don’t particularly like the styling.
Could you easily get comfortable behind the wheel?
Mark: No. The driving position was a bit strange. I couldn’t get the right adjustment out of the drivers seat to somewhere comfortable for me. And the steering wheel only having tilt as opposed to tilt/reach was a bit frustrating.
Robert: When I first got in the ute it was very obvious I was sitting on the seat, not in it like I do in my Ranger. You feel elevated on the seat looking over the bonnet (I am 6’2”), I feel the opposite in the Ranger where you feel you are sitting in the seat.
The dashboard was a long way from you, and doesn’t make for a cockpit feeling. For a range-topping vehicle it didn’t feel special, even with the leather seats and sat nav. The seats are unsupportive, unlike my Ranger or Kia, even after short drives you knew you hadn’t been comfy.
There wasn’t even a lumbar support control on the seat, even my Ranger has a manual lever for that. The nav was very impressive but you couldn’t actually turn the unit off completely, and the info display in the instruments was very basic.
The fuel gauge seemed inaccurate, and the cruise control in the D-Max seemed basic, whereas you can set the actual speed in a Ranger – even the base model.
James: As soon as I sat in the car I was greeted with the familiar Isuzu feeling: easy-to-use controls and good ergonomics with a more “commercial” flavour than other vehicles in this class.
It felt more like a downscaled truck rather than an SUV with a tray on the back. There is enough range of adjustment in both the seat and steering a large range of people can get comfortable, but there is no reach adjustment for the steering wheel.
Was phone pairing easy, and are all the buttons in a logical spot?
Mark: I got there in the end. It wasn’t where I first thought it would be, but I managed. It was a bit laggy too.
I was excited to hear it was a range-topping model, but let down when I saw the lack of features. The touchscreen not having many buttons was annoying. I like a volume knob. The buttons on the wheel weren’t the best and not in the greatest positions either. I felt the console and dash were pretty basic, and needed a bit more to them.
Robert: Phone paring was easy, but the steering wheel controls were basic, and I didn’t like the touch screen for phone use. There aren’t enough buttons on the AV unit for my liking.
James: Phone pairing was easier than previous D-Max models, with the large touchscreen being a significant upgrade on the previous version. The detail from the reversing camera is a step above others in the class and had strong low-light performance, although the grid lines do not move with the steering input. Sat nav is easy to use however when in direct sunlight the touch screen is very difficult to read.
Did you find the car comfortable? Why, or why not?
Mark: The ride of the car was very comfortable in a straight line. The suspension was very soft, which made for a comfortable ride, but also was a downfall as the body roll was off the charts.
Robert: As above, the seats weren’t particularly comfortable. Handling wasn’t that great compared to my Ranger, the D-Max was very boat-like, leaning as you turned, with plenty of body roll and no feeling of a connection with the front wheels. Ride was bouncy too, but I wasn’t carrying any weight in the back.
James: Sitting in the car, the ergonomics are definitely a strong point of the D-Max. All the controls are sensibly located and easy to operate. You sit lower in the cabin compared with competitors which, coupled with a lower sill height, means you don’t have the view above all the traffic.
The driving position for a commercial vehicle suits my body very well. All the controls are easy to find and use and there is great visibility out of the cabin.
This seat height is not a negative point as it allows easier entry and exit from the car. The seats are comfortable, with the drivers seat having electrical adjustment, however there is no adjustable lumbar for front seat passengers. As I am carrying a significant back injury I was concerned with this given the amount of driving I do each week but the seat was very comfortable. There is no option for heated seats in the D-Max range. The steering wheel is chunky and has a large diameter which suits the commercial feel of the vehicle.
Did the car seem faster or slower than expected?
Mark: More bark than bite. The engine was pretty loud and truck-like. It had plenty of pull off the line, but lacked top-end power. Having plenty of torque helped when I towed a trailer though.
Robert: Performance wise it was okay, but not that quick off the mark. The gearbox rushes to a higher gear for economy, but seemed to hunt around on cruise when climbing hills, unlike the Ranger which is smoother and holds gears to climb.
As you slowdown in the D-Max the car would just coast, where my Ranger goes down the gears as a manual would. The engine was also very loud at times under load showing its more truck-like origins.
James: As a commercial vehicle is never going to be a racer (even if the morning rush to the smoko shop suggests otherwise) but the D-Max is a strong performer. The six-speed automatic has a good spread of ratios, making the most of the wide torque delivery of the engine.
The linear nature of the torque delivery made the car very lazy to drive. The spec sheet may not have the highest peak numbers but in a commercial vehicle the “area under the curve’ is most important, and where Isuzu’s experience with larger commercial vehicles shines through.
At 100km/h the engine is barely turning over, which assists with fuel economy and less noise coming into the cabin from the engine (which is louder than other diesel utes). The rear differential has an open centre and no switchable diff lock which is a downside for those who head seriously off-road, otherwise it is not an issue.
What were the most and least enjoyable parts of driving the car?
Mark: Most enjoyable was the comfortable ride. Least enjoyable, the engine noise.
Robert: Keyless entry was cool, push button start cool again.
James: The most enjoyable part of the car has to be the suspension performance when unladen. Leaf-sprung dual-cabs have always struggled with ride quality and handling balance without a load onboard but the D-Max has that covered.
I believe the rear leaf is re-designed with only three leaves per pack without a “secondary” section, which gives the rear a more linear spring rate through the available travel. This means sharp hits from the rear end are reduced significantly. The shock absorber tuning gives a good compromise between body control and suspension stiffness under normal operating conditions.
For what the car is, the fuel economy is great. With a mixture of highway and city driving a 7.5 L/100km was easy to achieve. Not that long ago 4×4 utes were normally well above 10.0L/100km and when you’re driving 60,000km+ a year or a fleet operator any savings in running cost is a big deal.
Least enjoyable point has to be using the cruise control. After coming to a stop the cruise control speed will not resume, which is different to all the vehicles I’ve owned. There’s also no digital speed reading, making it difficult to set the exact cruise speed. When faced with an incline the D-Max is too eager to downshift and apply more throttle than required on cruise, making it overshoot the target speed. To improve the performance of the cruise control I manually held the car in gear.
How does it compare to your daily driver, or other utes you’ve driven?
Mark: I was a bit underwhelmed. When told it was a top of the range D-Max, my first thoughts were ‘I would hate to see a base model’. The Amarok I have driven is in a different league as far as refinement and features.
For the sort of money you pay for an LS-T, I’m not sure why someone would prefer it over one of the other dual-cabs available.
Robert: Overall my daily driver is more refined, has more tech, and is more enjoyable to drive than the D-Max. I felt I’d gone back to my Colorado which I had in 2010 to 2013.
James: My daily driver is a 2018 Nissan Navara ST-X 4×4 dual-cab so this D-Max is basically the same trim level as the Navara. The Nissan feels more like a SUV with a tray rather than a ute like the D-Max does. The Navara has a couple of extra features that the D-Max doesn’t have (heated seats, 360-degree camera, seven-speed automatic, coils, power outlet in tray) but I don’t believe all these extras make the Navara a better commercial ute.
The detail from the cameras in the Navara isn’t as good as the D-Max and the screen is smaller. The seven-speed automatic in the Navara is required as it has a smaller capacity engine. The D-Max actually rides more comfortably than the Navara, even with the difference between leaf and coil suspension – the Navara lets sharp bumps into the cabin more harshly.
Navara has a more premium feel in the cabin with nicer plastics, leather trim and reduced NVH. Four-wheel drive selection is faster in the D-Max. In the Navara, I’ve often gone to engage four-wheel drive or the rear diff lock and been met with a flashing light on the dashboard for more than a minute. It shouldn’t be that difficult.
I think both vehicles are targeting slightly different buyer groups, with the Navara having more of a SUV experience and the D-Max for trade or commercial buyers wanting a heavy-duty ute with some added luxuries.
Where did you take the car?
Mark: To and from work, to Bunnings Warehouse, and I towed a rotary hoe from the hire shop.
Robert: I drove locally to shops, up the highway to Ballarat, and twice to an Anglesea scout camp, where there’s off-road tracks.
James: I used the D-Max in the place of my work vehicle, for approximately 1,200km for the week. This included travelling between Melbourne and as far East as Lakes Entrance.
What did you do while you were there?
Mark: I played with the entertainment system, and tested all the buttons and features available.
Robert: I just drove it in two-wheel drive mode on the road, and tried the four-wheel drive system at the scout camp.
James: Nothing exciting, just work!
Did the car suit the roads?
Mark: The suspension did make for a comfortable ride but a lot of body roll around corners. Visibility and ride height were good.
Robert: It was very capable off-road, not that I pushed too far into the bush.
James: The car and the improved suspension really suited the rough regional roads and the good comfort and ergonomics made the long drives easy to deal with. The headlight performance was strong even if they are not LED. The fog-lights provided additional useful light spread when in poor conditions.
If you had the money, would you buy one? If not, what would you prefer?
Mark: I wouldn’t buy one. I would buy a Ranger, Amarok or HiLux – possibly an X-Class, but I haven’t looked into them much.
Robert: I wouldn’t buy one, or swap it for my Ranger. If I wanted to buy a ute, I’d buy a Ranger.
James: I think I would buy one, but maybe not at this specification level. The D-Max l’d buy would be the LS-M with the vinyl floor – I would take it off-roading and the carpet isn’t fun to clean out. It would have to have the six-speed automatic gearbox.
Did it meet, surpass or fall short of your expectations?
Mark: It fell a bit short of my expectations.
Robert: It so fell short on a few levels – there wasn’t a heap of tech for a range-topping model, and it wasn’t refined to drive.
James: As I’ve experienced the Isuzu D-Max previously in an earlier generation 4×4 and 4×2 cab chassis, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. The one are of the car which really stood out was the ride comfort from the leaf springs.
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